I had the pleasure of remotely participating in a conversation with Jared Stein and Bonnie Stewart at the Digital Pedagogy Lab this morning. The topic of our discussion centered around balancing the benefits of open and closed approaches to digital pedagogy. An exchange that often comes down to the LMS vs open tools like Twitter, blogs, wikis, etc. What was interesting for me about this conversation was that strict dichotomy is starting to break down in my mind. The question of open vs closed (one I have been harping on for years) is beginning to morph into one centered around ownership, agency, and control.
Pitting open against closed assumes one right approach: open=good and closed=bad. At UMW we’ve defaulted our various systems to open (save the LMS) as a way of pushing our community’s work out on the web. In this regard, UMW Blogs and UMW Domains have become synonymous with open, whereas the LMS has often been understood as the closed space for digital course work. And while this approach to open at UMW has come to define our ethos, one I very much believe in, it also became our prison. Such a stance makes it hard to draw the nuances that were necessary to recognize a spectrum between these two poles.
But increasingly the question seems to be moving towards whether or not faculty and students can control their data. I shift I think Audrey Watters and Kin Lane, amongst others, have done a ton of work to raise awareness around. More and more I find myself thinking about a distributed, API-driven architecture that enables folks to share the work on their own terms, while at the same time making the act of sharing seamless across all these systems, whether it be the LMS, one’s own domain, blogs, the university web site, etc. What intrigues me about this shift is that it returns the decision of sharing back to the individual, rather than a pre-determined choice between LMS versus blog baked into the design of the system. How to we foreground choice and empower folks to make an informed decision?
Such an architecture might help re-focus the question of digital pedagogy back to conversations amongst faculty and students—enabling agency beyond the either/or questions of which system. Andrew Rikard‘s recent article in EdSurge, “Do I Own My Domain If You Grade It?”, argues that while the push for owning your own data and the greater potential for agency is important, the real shift should focus on a move from “data possession to knowledge production”:
I agree that owning data has the potential to give students agency and control. But it is not a guarantee.
I want to shift the emphasis from data possession to knowledge production. Gaining ownership over the data is vital—but until students see this domain as a space that rewards rigor and experimentation, it will not promote student agency. Traditional assignments don’t necessarily empower students when they have to post them in a public space.
I couldn’t agree with Rikard more here. The shift towards the vision of a personal cyberinfrastructure must be accompanied by a shift in pedagogy that is centered around this idea of creative experimentation. I think this might also open up all sorts of questions surrounding the the role of the domain as an individual versus communal space; the benefits of the traditional stream-driven web versus an alternative, federated vision preached by Mike Caulfield with Smallest Federated Wiki; whether the true revolution at the center of digital pedagogy is to surrender any sense of unilateral power in the classroom, etc.
What I like about this line of discussion is that it frames the questions of digital pedagogy around issues of agency that pertain to both ownership of data as well as ownership of one’s education. Digital pedagogy as a pathway to empowered choice. Both of these shifts require a relinquishing of centralized control, deep faith in collaboration, mutual respect, and a vision of education as empowerment. All things I dig, and a conversation that starts to move us away from discussions around open vs closed that seem increasingly overdetermined.